CENTRAL PARK tells it like it is

This season has left me at a complete loss. I’ve run out of things to say, and unlike Alistair Brownlee, who has the gift of being able to talk for hours (or does it just seem that way) long after there is nothing sensible left to say, I am struggling to provide what for me will be my last contribution of the current season. Some of the players seem to have made their last contribution of the season at the end of February – which comment just goes to show the kind of mood I am in.

We all know before a ball is kicked that no matter what happens then at the end of the season four teams will be relegated to the division below; and there is nothing in our history to suggest that the world will be surprised if one of those teams turns out to be Hartlepool United. There is no reason why we should be exempt from the ups and downs of football life, but the manner of our going this year has been more farce than tragedy.

Despite the false dawn of February (and by the way, if this had been in the world of horse racing there would have been a stewards inquiry) I think most of us had accepted before Christmas that there would be no reprieve from what the first half of the season had set in train.

The February madness was very much a mixed blessing. On one hand it made us think that the players were not so bad, but on the other it gave us false hope that the miracle might just happen and that the great escapes of the 1971-2 and 1989 -90 seasons might just be repeated. Most of us (including me) were cheering them on against Leyton Orient and Crewe when in a saner world than that of football we should have been using those performances as evidence for the prosecution, and damning them for not producing such performances much earlier in the season, and much more often.

In my calmer moments I have been trying to work out what went wrong and who is to blame for the fiasco that has been the 2012-3 season, and have come to the conclusion that everybody is at fault to some degree except me, and the other trusting souls who bought season tickets back in May of last year and turned up match after match in the hope that things were going to get better. (Or the motivation could be ‘well I’ve paid for it so I’m going to get my money’s worth’). I assume that those who are turning up are season ticket holders because I daren’t think what would motivate someone to pay full price to stand on the terraces and watch what is going on when they don’t have to.
"Most of us (including me) were cheering them on against Leyton Orient and Crewe when in a saner world than that of football we should have been using those performances as evidence for the prosecution"
So, what of next season? Unfortunately I can’t see things getting any better. I have to admit that I have changed from being an optimist into a very deep pessimist. So long as IOR persist in their policy of supporting the ‘salary cap’ then I can only see a continuing spiral into the depths.

It seems to me that as long as the ‘salary cap’ (or as the authorities like to refer to it ‘the fair play rules’) is in operation then things can only get worse. I don’t think that many people would disagree with me when I say that after relegation there will be a fall-off in income which will leave the club in a weaker position when it comes to offering high enough wages to attract the players that might get us a promotion. So if we don’t get off to a good start then fewer people will be inclined to pay at the gate to watch the team, so income will not improve, so there will be less to spend on the good players who might improve things for us. This pattern will be repeated until we are playing at Grayfields in the Northern League Division One.

Of course there are some people who will say that this scenario is unrealistically pessimistic, as the ‘salary cap’ rules apply to all the other teams in the division and they will observe the rules just as rigidly as IOR – with no exceptions. All those of you who believe this might wish to get in contact with me (via your carer) as I own a bridge in London that you might wish to buy.

There will be some innocent souls who will think that the salary cap will be forced on clubs who don’t really want it and there will be no escape. Well for once I found myself in agreement with Alistair Brownlee who made a throw away remark to his scouse mate Super Brain on the Middlesbrough hour a couple of weeks ago. While discussing the fortunes of Middlesbrough FC when they are subject to the salary cap next season; he remarked, very dismissively “that can be got round”. I believed him, because I understand that he worked in the world of finance before taking to the airwaves, and in that respect he does know what he is talking about.

For those of you who might think that the salary cap is a good idea please bear in mind that it is being strongly supported by Manchester United, and that their support intensified when Manchester City were taken over by someone from the middle-east for who spending money in pursuit of what they want has never been a problem. I think it is a safe bet that whatever Manchester United is in favour of will not be to the advantage of anyone but themselves.

If I have understood the scheme properly then the effect will be to cement the successful clubs in their place, while the less rich clubs get poorer and poorer in the manner described above. All this because some people in Europe, especially that little twerp Platini (as skilful as he was he soon went missing when the blood and snot started flying – no wonder he has ambitions to take over from Blatter), are miffed that English clubs have become too dominant in European competitions over the past ten years or so because of the financial backing of some very rich individuals.

The smoke screen they have put up is that this is a way of reducing the amount of money spent on players’ wages which have somehow become the symbol for all that is wrong in the world.

The whole idea of the salary cap is an abomination. If a club does not wish to pay a player a specific amount of money then it should not sign a contract agreeing to pay that amount of money. If they pay wages they cannot afford and thereby get into financial difficulties, then let them go out of business. I don’t mean that they should lose ten points or some such, but let them cease to exist the way any other bankrupt business would. I think something like that happened to Maidstone twenty or so years ago.

If having arrived at a state of bankruptcy it is considered that the directors of the clubs have taken on financial liabilities in a reckless manner, then let the ordinary law of the land take its course. All the tools needed to deal with profligate football clubs are already in place, without adding this completely unnecessary interference by people with nothing better to do.

Back to Pools. I suspect that at the end of the season all players who are out of contract, and are on other than apprentice wages, will be released and will be replaced, if at all, by much cheaper versions – irrespective of ability. Whether these will be good enough to keep us in the football league will be down to good luck and the judgement of the manager. I have never felt this pessimistic before the start of a new season since July 1989.

Of course I intend to be there, but with a change of vantage point. My friends and I are finally succumbing to the effects of advancing years and have decide to take up residence in the Cyril Knowles stand, where our accumulated knowledge and wit will be freely given to those who are seated near us (as a former chairman of Fulham might have said “you lucky people”). The Town End’s loss will be their gain. We didn’t really want to go in the seats but the one consolation we have is that we will be near enough to the spot where the officials leave the field for us to let them know our opinions of their performance.

In conclusion I would just like to say that whatever happens next season I hope that radio Middlesbrough retain the services of Ivan Ash as the commentator on our away games. If there is one thing positive that you can say about dear old Ivan it is that he is prepared to talk about anything but football to take your mind off things if the team is doing badly – but then again, he does it if they are doing well.